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Political tension in Libya claims 32 lives

Fierce clashes raged near Tripoli between pro-Haftar fighters and troops loyal to the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA).

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Fighters from a Misrata armed group loyal to the internationally recognised Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) prepare their ammunition before heading to the frontline as battles against Forces of Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar continue on the outskirts of the capital Tripoli on April 8, 2019. - At least 32 people have been reported killed and around 50 wounded in fighting with Haftar's troops near Tripoli, the UN-backed government said. Fierce clashes raged yesterday near the capital between pro-Haftar fighters and troops loyal to the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA). (Photo by Mahmud TURKIA / AFP)

At least 32 people have been killed and around 50 wounded in fighting with strongman Khalifa Haftar’s troops near Tripoli, the UN-backed government said.

Health minister A’hmid Omar gave the updated death toll in an interview with Libya’s Al-Ahrar television station late Sunday. Haftar’s forces have so far said 14 of their fighters have died.

Fierce clashes raged on Sunday near Tripoli between pro-Haftar fighters and troops loyal to the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA).

The two sides also exchanged air strikes days after Haftar — who backs an administration in eastern Libya opposed to the GNA — launched an offensive Thursday to seize the capital.

The clashes came despite calls by the United Nations and the United States for an urgent ceasefire.

Pro-GNA forces on Sunday announced a counteroffensive named “Volcano of Anger”.

Spokesman Colonel Mohamed Gnounou said the operation was aimed at “purging all Libyan cities of aggressor and illegitimate forces”, in reference to Haftar’s fighters.

Libya has been riven by divisions since the NATO-backed uprising in 2011 that killed dictator Moamer Kadhafi, with rival administrations and armed groups vying for power and control of the country’s oil.

Haftar’s offensive has threatened to plunge the country into a full-blown civil war and once again thwart diplomatic efforts to find a solution to Libya’s woes.

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Opposition party candidates cry foul over ruling party victory in Mauritania elections

“We reject the results of the election and we consider that they in no way express the will of the Mauritanian people,”

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Mohamed Vall Ould Bellal, president of the Independent National Electoral Commission, attends a press conference

Mauritania’s ruling party candidate Mohamed Ould Ghazouani has won the presidential election with 52 per cent of the vote, the electoral commission announced Sunday, with opposition candidates crying foul. Ghazouani easily beat main opposition opponents Biram Ould Dah Ould Abeid (18.58 per cent) and Sidi Mohamed Ould Boubacar (17.87 per cent), according to the official figures from Saturday’s polls.

Former prime minister Boubacar, addressing a news conference along with three other candidates, charged that “multiple irregularities…eliminated any credibility” in the election, which was to be the first democratic transfer of power in the country.

“We reject the results of the election and we consider that they in no way express the will of the Mauritanian people,” he said, vowing the opposition would use “every legal means” to challenge them.

The CENI electoral commission said voter turnout was 62.66 per cent. With a clear majority, the 62-year-old Ghazouani, former head of the domestic security service, has won outright with no need for a second-round runoff election.

Appeal to the people

Ghazouani had already declared himself the winner in the early hours of Sunday in the presence of outgoing president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, his supporters and journalists. Second-placed Abeid, an anti-slavery activist, told the opposition news conference: “We are launching an appeal to the Mauritanian people… to resist, within the bounds of the law, this umpteenth coup d’etat against the will of the people.”

Incidents broke out between protesters and police following Ghazouani’s declaration in the capital and in northwest Nouadhibou, the only province where he did not come in first. The opposition said they were planning protests from Monday afternoon.

“We will organise protests, this is our constitutional right,” Mohamed Ould Moloud, who got 2.44 per cent of the vote, told the news conference late Sunday, stressing they would be peaceful. Baba Hamidou Kane, who polled 8.71 per cent, said the four opposition candidates would lodge an official protest with the electoral commission on Monday.

Although the vote is the first in Mauritania’s history that looks set to see an elected president complete his mandate and transfer power to an elected successor, the opposition has raised concerns that the vote could perpetuate a government dominated by military figures.

Some 1.5 million people were eligible to vote in the predominantly Muslim state, which is estimated to be twice the size of France but has a population of just 4.5 million.

Alleged irregularities

CENI advised all candidates “to show prudence and restraint”, and hoped the calm during the campaign and on the voting day would prevail. Both Abeid and Boubacar had complained of balloting irregularities and the expulsion of representatives from some polling stations. However, CENI said no major problems had been reported.

Ghazouani – who campaigned on the themes of continuity, solidarity and security – served as Abdel Aziz’s chief of staff from 2008 to last year. The outgoing president is a general who originally came to power in a 2008 coup. He won elections a year later and was again elected in 2014 in polls boycotted by the opposition.

Abdel Aziz repeatedly warned that the country could fall back into instability if his chosen candidate was not elected. He is credited with reforming the army, clamping down on jihadists and pushing to develop remote regions.

Nevertheless, rights groups have accused Mauritania’s government of restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly, while calling on the nation to do more to counter violence against women and slavery, which persists in the conservative state even though it was officially abolished in 1981.

Authorities rejected an opposition request for foreign observers at the election. All of the candidates promised improvements in the standard of living, though economic growth at 3.6 per cent in 2018 is insufficient to meet the needs of a fast-growing population, according to the World Bank.

The World Bank has welcomed the “macro-economic stabilisation” of the country, where annual growth is expected to average 6.2 per cent between 2019 and 2021. But it has called for barriers to be removed in the private sector, pointing in particular to corruption, as well as difficult access to credit.

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Boko Haram attack kills 8 in Chad

Security sources said the seven Chadian soldiers and the guard were killed in an ambush on Friday in Mbomouga in Chad’s Ngouboua area

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Seven Chadian soldiers and a local guard were killed in a Boko Haram jihadist ambush in Lake Chad, the latest in a surge of attacks in the region, security sources said on Sunday. Boko Haram militants have been waging a decade-long insurgency in northwest Nigeria, but the conflict has spilt into Lake Chad where Nigeria borders Niger, Chad and Cameroon.

Security sources said the seven Chadian soldiers and the guard were killed in an ambush on Friday in Mbomouga in Chad’s Ngouboua area, and another 13 people were wounded. “The Boko Haram forces lost six of their people and left behind two weapons,” one security source said.

Among the soldiers killed was a gendarme colonel, the source said. Another source said three army officers were killed in the attack. Since 2018, Boko Haram has carried out at least nine attacks on Chad. But the jihadist group has stepped up attacks outside Nigeria after a period of calm last year

Last month, militants killed four people in an attack on a Cameroonian island on Lake Chad and Boko Haram killed another 13 villagers in eastern Chad. In March jihadists killed at least 23 Chadian soldiers in an attack on an army post in the group’s deadliest attack on the country’s military.

Since 2015, troops from Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria have been grouped into a mixed, multi-national force in a bid to help fight Islamist militants.

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Voters in Mauritania look forward to better conditions

The ballot is the first in the nation’s history that looks set to see an elected president complete his mandate and hand over to an elected successor

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Mauritania Decides - Voters look forward to better conditions
Mauritanian voters queue in front of a polling station in order to cast their ballot, on June 22, 2019, in Nouakchoot during the presidential election. - Voters in the West African state of Mauritania went to the polls on June 22, 2019 after a campaign dominated by the country's economy and appeals to preserve its hard-won stability. The ballot is the first in the nation's coup-strewn history that looks set to see an elected president complete his mandate and hand over to an elected successor. (Photo by Sia KAMBOU / AFP)

Voters in Mauritania went to the polls on Saturday after a campaign dominated by the country’s economy and appeals to preserve its hard-won stability.

The ballot is the first in the nation’s history that looks set to see an elected president complete his mandate and hand over to an elected successor.

Some 1.5 million people are entitled to vote. Polling stations opened at 0700 GMT and will close at 1900 GMT, with preliminary results expected at the start of next week.

At Nouakchott’s Olympic stadium, where frontrunner Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, a 62-year-old former general, is scheduled to cast his ballot at midday, queues had already formed when polling opened. 

One voter, Elalem Abdelbaqi, said he had come early to fulfil his civic duty. 

“The programme of the person I’m going to vote for promises everything that I’m looking for,” he told AFP, without revealing the name of his preferred candidate. 

Another, Abdellahi Ould Vettah, called for “peaceful change”.

“We want radical change, which is to say: equality, education and social justice,” he said. 

A woman voter, Fatimatou Ahmed, said “renewal is very important for us women”. 

President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, a general who came to power in a 2008 coup, is standing down after winning high marks from many Mauritanians for stabilising the country.

Elected in 2009 and again in 2014 in a vote boycotted by the main opposition parties, Abdel Aziz has reformed the army, clamped down on jihadists and pushed to develop remote regions of the vast Saharan state.

Frontrunner Ould Ghazouani is a one-time head of the domestic security service and chief of staff to Abdel Aziz from 2008 to last year.

Ghazouani campaigned on the themes of continuity, solidarity and security – “the country’s security, first and foremost,” he declared on Thursday at a final rally gathering 10,000 supporters, many of them young people.

Abdel Aziz has given full backing to his loyal lieutenant.

“There’s only two choices — either going backwards, towards extremism, waste and instability, or your candidate, who will continue what has been achieved to build a stable and developed state,” he declared at the rally.

Ghazouani’s main challenger is Sidi Mohamed Ould Boubacar, 62, who was prime minister between 1992 and 1996 and at the helm of a transitional government between 2005-7.

He hopes to win enough support to secure a runoff vote on July 6.

Boubacar is backed by a coalition led by the main opposition movement, Islamist party Tewassoul, and by wealthy Franco-Mauritanian businessman Mohamed Ould Bouamatou, a longtime thorn in the side of the regime who lives in Europe.

Nearly 30 percent said they would vote for Ghazaouani and 23 percent for Boubacar in a poll of 1,300 people conducted in the capital Nouakchott by the Mauritanian Centre for Strategic Studies and Research (CMERS) last week.

The four other candidates are outliers in the race, according to the poll.

Known especially abroad for his media campaigning, anti-slavery activist Biram Ould Dah Ould Abeid, 55, was credited with 9.5 percent of voting intentions, followed by veteran opposition figure Mohamed Ould Moloud, 66, with 3.7 percent.

Journalist Baba Hamidou Kane and political newcomer Mohamed Lemine El-Mourteji El-Wavi, each garnered under three percent.

Courting the vote

Candidates have been travelling around the country with a population to woo voters.

They have also courted the heads of tribes and clans in remote regions, who can mobilise whole communities behind a candidate.

The opposition has warned of vote fraud and accused the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) of bias.

The authorities rejected an opposition request for foreign observers.

Rights groups urged candidates to throw their weight behind a rollback of slavery, which persists in Mauritania, and curbing violence against women.

All the candidates promised improvements in the standard of living, though economic growth at 3.6 percent in 2018 is insufficient to meet the needs of a fast-growing population, according to the World Bank.

It has called on Mauritania to give more help to the private sector, where, it says, access to credit and corruption are major problems.

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